ROBERTS: Sequestration cuts have affected court operations across the spectrum. There are fewer court clerks to process new civil and bankruptcy cases, slowing the intake procedure and propagating delays throughout the litigation process. There are fewer probation and pretrial services officers to protect the public from defendants awaiting trial and from offenders following their incarceration and release into the community. There are fewer public defenders available to vindicate the Constitution’s guarantee of counsel to indigent criminal defendants, which leads to postponed trials and delayed justice for the innocent and guilty alike. There is less funding for security guards at federal courthouses, placing judges, court personnel, and the public at greater risk of harm.
The Supreme Court closed out its 2011–12 term today in dramatic fashion, upholding the Affordable Care Act by a sharply divided vote. The Court’s bottom line, reasoning and lineup of justices all came as a shock to many. While I had earlier cautioned doomsayers that the law was “not dead yet” after an oral argument that others deemed disastrous for the law’s defenders, I don’t think anyone predicted that the law would be upheld without the support of Justice Anthony Kennedy, almost always the Court’s crucial swing vote. And while most of the legal debate focused on Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause, the Court ultimately upheld the law as an exercise of the taxing power—even though President Obama famously claimed that the law was not a tax. The most surprising thing of all, though, is that in the end, this ultraconservative Court decided the case, much as it did in many other cases this term, by siding with the liberals.
Justice Kennedy, on whom virtually all hope for a decision upholding the law rested, voted with Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. They would have invalidated all 900 pages of the law—even though the challengers had directly attacked only two of the law’s hundreds of provisions. But Chief Justice John Roberts sided with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan to uphold the law as a valid exercise of Congress’s power to tax.